Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pretend You're Persian This Hanukkah

Actually, if you were trying to do that, you wouldn't really make these; you'd only just wear lots of black and kiss on both cheeks. But see, I've decided that zoulbia, a crisp lacy fritter that bursts with rosewater cardamom syrup when you bite into it, is going to be the traditional Iranian Hanukkah food from now on. It makes sense: throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean, Jews eat various fried sweets to celebrate the oil-related miracle that Hanukkah commemorates (and yes, latkes weave this same theme through Eastern Europe). These little bits of deliciousness really should be our contribution to the grease-fest.

I really recommend trying zoulbia. They're pretty easy to make -- the batter comes together pretty simply, and it's actually really fun to squeeze out amorphous squiggles of the stuff into hot oil, then watch it bubble and expand as it fries to a golden brown. And the end result is indulgent: sticky and gooey with sweet glaze, the scent is vaguely exotic, and the crunch is really satisfying.

So, I wrote an article for the Shofar, an Iranian Jewish quarterly magazine, declaring this new tradition and offering my mom's recipe. You can check it out on page 67 of this pdf version of the issue, in addition to two other stories I wrote for the magazine: an opinion piece on Barack Obama being elected president (that's right, I wrote about politics. Crazy, no?) on page 51, and an article about the shameful scandal surrounding Agriprocessors, the nation's largest producer of kosher meat on page 58.

UPDATE: Here's the recipe right on the blog, for those too lazy to click the pdf link. What can I say, I'm a giver!


  1. Hi Tannaz,

    Thanks for the introduction to zoulbia; this sounds absolutely delicious. :)

    Do you know any restaurants in L.A. / O.C. that serve this? Thanks.

  2. Can't say for sure, but most persian restaurants would offer zoulbia to have with tea after the meal. Javan in West LA and Darya in Costa Mesa are good bets. Also larger Middle Eastern markets have fresh zoulbia in the bakery section as well -- Elat Market in West LA definitely does, as does the awesome Wholesome Choice in Irvine (beware though, you might end up spending hours inside Wholesome Choice!).

  3. Those came out looking so great. Can you post the recipe here for people who hate linking?

  4. done! i've posted the recipe for the link-lazy!

  5. Sadaf was saying that Mamanini used to make Elephant's Ears (gooshfil) for Hannukah. Any recollection? You should look into this.

  6. consulted my notes. according to mohtaram (closest we're gonna get to mamanini), gooshfil is purim, not hanukkah. and violet concurs. apparently it represents haman's ear or his hat or something.

  7. Hi Tannaz,

    Thanks so much for the info! I can't believe I've never been to Wholesome Choice (none of my OC Hounds have ever mentioned this place to me! Grrr... ;).

    I'll have to check it out the next time I'm down there (or go to Javan). Thanks. :)

  8. Merci Tannaz!

    Do you have any recommendations for making this without wheat flour??

  9. Hey Tara -- I know very little about the world of wheat-free cooking, but I consulted my friend Jenny Goldberg, half of the sister pair behind Spork Foods, vegan chef extraordinaire, and my personal go-to on special needs diets and food substitutions, and she had this wonderful advice:

    "You can totally use the Arrowhead Mills Wheat Free Flour Blend. It has a little bit of a grittier taste than flour, because it is made of tapioca starch, rice flour and other things like that....but you can always substitute Spelt flour, depending on what type of wheat intolerance the person has. Some people that are completely gluten-free have to avoid spelt too, but others don't. Chickpea flour is a great substitute as well, but ideally you want to mix it with a wheat free flour blend."

    Thanks so much Jenny, and hope that helps, Tara!

  10. Thank you Tannaz! I just made your mom's recipe and the other recipe that exists online(has starch in stead of flour)...And your mom's recipe ROCKS!! This is yummy authentic Zoolbia. If your mom has more Jewish/Persian recipes please post. I'd love to try them:-)

  11. Aw, Salomé, you made my day! I'm so glad this recipe worked out for you. It's easier than it looks, isn't it?!

    As far as more recipes, someday I will publish a book with all the Persian Jewish recipes I have collected. In the meantime, try this link for all of the posts here tagged as 'persian'. Mom's sabzi polo is particularly amazing.